Former DNC Chair Howard Dean began an online furor when he posted that the First Amendment didn’t apply to “hate speech.”
The tweet simply read, “Hate speech is not protected by the first amendment.” He linked to another tweet that said, “Free Speech Defenders Don’t Forget: Ann Coulter once said: My only regret w/ Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times building.”
Hate speech is not protected by the first amendment. https://t.co/DOct3xcLoY
— Howard Dean (@GovHowardDean) April 21, 2017
The original tweet’s author, journalist Stephen Greenhouse also offered, “Glad that Berkeley is respecting Coulter’s First Amendment rights, but Berkeley students should remember how astoundingly hateful she can be.”
Both he and Dean were responding to developments in an ongoing struggle between right-wing firebrand Ann Coulter and UC-Berkeley. She was invited by college Republicans to speak on the topic of immigration, something she writes and speaks about frequently.
Originally, Berkeley canceled the speech, citing security concerns from the left-wing activists that would no doubt protest the speech and possibly attempt to disrupt it violently. Thursday, the university announced that it would accommodate Coulter at a later date.
Ironically, Greenhouse replied to the message from Dean, saying he rejected the former governor’s understanding of the Constitution:
— Steven Greenhouse (@greenhousenyt) April 21, 2017
Others were more colorful in their disdainful disagreement with Dean:
@GovHowardDean Please tell me you’re not this ignorant or are simply trolling. “Hate speech” isn’t a legal term, it’s political Orwellian language.
— David Bohm🇺🇸🇨🇺 (@DavidJBohm) April 21, 2017
@GovHowardDean Scary to think that you were once a viable candidate for president. “Hate Speech” is most certainly protected by the first amendment.
— HarryGato (@harrygato) April 21, 2017
@GovHowardDean ‘offensive’ speech is the most protected speech of all. You’re a disgrace.
— Teresa † ن (@BlackIrishI) April 21, 2017
— neontaster (@neontaster) April 21, 2017
— Reacher said nothing (@Caper29b) April 21, 2017
@GovHowardDean Can you help me out and explain what things you would jail people for saying?
I assume nothing on the Democrat platform.
— Kurt Schlichter (@KurtSchlichter) April 21, 2017
While “hate speech” is a term commonly used to limit controversial speech in European countries and in Canada, there is a general consensus among Constitutional scholars that merely offensive speech is protected by the U.S. Constitution.
Eugene Volokh explained his understanding of the First Amendment in the Washington Post:
I keep hearing about a supposed “hate speech” exception to the First Amendment, or statements such as, “This isn’t free speech, it’s hate speech,” or “When does free speech stop and hate speech begin?” But there is no hate speech exception to the First Amendment. Hateful ideas (whatever exactly that might mean) are just as protected under the First Amendment as other ideas. One is as free to condemn Islam — or Muslims, or Jews, or blacks, or whites, or illegal aliens, or native-born citizens — as one is to condemn capitalism or Socialism or Democrats or Republicans.
Dean made headlines recently when he called Steve Bannon, President Donald Trump’s top aide, a “Nazi.”
While some might consider Dean’s insult inflammatory and hateful, it almost certainly is protected by the First Amendment.